Friday , 27 May 2022

World Aids Day Scotland: Time to act, not just talk

Today is World AIDS Day, a time of reflection about the impact of HIV infection and the related pandemic has had and still continues exert. This should propel us, and above all our legislators, to act, not just talk.

Despite remarkable advancements, such as better mortality rate than other viruses, such as Hepatitis C, providing anti-retroviral medication, HIV is treated with much greater stigma and fear. Even the commonly known Influenza (flu) virus kills far more people than HIV, and by some distance, in Scotland. The lay-over of fear from the 1980s persists in Scotland and needs addressed urgently.

WhatWillYouDoIt’s 2014 and we still don’t have sexual health being taught to every young person in Scotland. Here we have a golden opportunity to give every generation a baseline of knowledge about how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. The government has targets to reach in reducing new diagnoses, in testing rates for STIs in general and for treatment, but the key ingredient to preventing this enormous social and financial cost is being missed: education.

Prevention is better than the cure, and one of kits key components is education. Having a basic understanding of why condoms are so important to HIV prevention is crucial to ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030; as the UN aims to do. It’s staggering that the estimates of those living with HIV but don’t know it are as high as 1 in 5. That’s thousands of people that have had and continue to have unprotected sex and without being tested for HIV. This is definitely not just gay men, a notion persisted by ignorance.

HIV infection rates are increasing in Scotland, too many of those diagnosed with HIV present late on in the infection’s course, too many are having unprotected sex with new partners and too many people don’t appreciate the effect that HIV can have on a person if untreated. We, the people of Scotland, have to ask what the Government is doing to address these ongoing issues. Public health campaigns, free testing and free access to condoms have been introduced; but no change overall change in HIV cases in the last 10 years.

The vast majority of parents, teachers, health organisations, women’s support groups, sexual health services and the young people of Scotland themselves want sex and relationship education. It is time that our legislators stand up for their constituents and say what they will do to combat HIV.

The answer of course is educate youth and giving them information that will empower them to make choices that would help them and others leave health lives. This the government can do by backing sex and relationships education, making it compulsory in all Scottish schools, and have no opt out for children either. There is a current petition by Sexpression:UK in Parliament that addresses this issue that is being considered presently and the legislators of our country need to come out in support in the run up to its next hearing in Holyrood on the 9th December.

Maureen Watt, Scottish Minister for Public Health, said: “I hope that the #WhatWillYouDo campaign will make people more aware of HIV and help us work together to ensure that people with HIV live longer healthier lives, free from stigma and discrimination.”

Now is the time for Watt and Angela Constance, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, to unite and put action to their words: educate the next generation of Scots in sex and relationship education.

Scotland’s legislators and ministers: ask yourselves today: what will you do? Will you act or will you just talk?

About Jack Fletcher

Jack Fletcher
Jack Fletcher is a member of Sexpression:UK who visits local schools to teach high quality comprehensive sex and relationship education and advocate for its provision as compulsory in the UK education system. He also writes as a blogger of Huffington Post about sexual health, LGBTI rights, domestic abuse/rape and feminism, among other subjects. When he is not writing about these issues, he is studying medicine at the University of Aberdeen or enjoys watching football.

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